Youth and Agriculture in Africa (By Tayo Adegoke)

Posted: November 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

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I had barely arrived in Lagos that my phone began vibrating in the breast pocket of my native attire, a senior lecturer at the University of South Africa had sent me a message to deliver an article on youth and agriculture in Africa, I had agreed to it before realising that I am technically not a farmer as such, starting this article has being somewhat challenging since finding myself considerably invested in agri-business came as a sheer stroke of luck as opposed to a well thought of concept for capital acquisition.

You would think the teeming population of the youth, which currently stand at over 350 million aged between 15-24 years old in Africa, is alarming enough, not until you are privy to the number of young Africans that arrive every year on the labour market- that stands at 10 million per annum. Many are unable to fulfil their potential as a result of poverty, hunger, poor health and lack of education. These Achilles heels are detrimental to that person whose skill is needed to gain employment. More often than not, rural youth typically, but often fruitlessly, migrate in search of economic opportunities.

The author is British trained. He has a degree in Accounting and Finance; BA (hons). He also possesses a Master’s Degree in Accounting and Financial Management and of course, he is chartered. Since moving back to Nigeria in 2008, the author has worked as the head of finance for a Geographical Information System (GIS) company in Nigeria, he has consulted for Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), he has worked as an adviser to a former governor and presidential aspirant, he was involved in the un-ethical but also profitable export of solid bio-fuel to Europe, he has being involved in the haulage of petroleum products for the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) right before the Nigerian subsidy scandal. The author is currently into logistics, telecommunication and Agri-business. To be frank, none of all the endeavours mentioned above is yet to prove as profitable and sustainable as Agri-business.
Why then aren’t we all engaged in Agri-business is the question begging to be answered.

According to the International Labour Organization, GDP in sub-Saharan Africa should rise by 15-19 per cent if young people were employed in productive work. “Current events show the energy, creativity and power of young people, and also the importance of ensuring that they can see a future for themselves in the societies in which they live,” said Kofi Annan at the recent annual meeting of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Yes, we have young, creative and powerful young people, but for us to fully explore Africa’s agro-potential, bridge the human resource divide currently plaguing agricultural development on this continent, a greater percentage of African youth need to be actively involved in Agri-business. Most importantly, the government needs to adopt pro-agriculture policies, one that will inform a positive and complete re-orientation of our youth towards agriculture.

To make a case study from the Nigerian scenario, Nigerian youth see farming as a third rate profession. Young people perceive agriculture as a profession of intense labour, not profitable and unable to support their livelihood compared to what white collar jobs offer. They are of the erroneous impression that agriculture would not afford them the pleasures of owning a beautiful home, fast cars, boats, holidays etc like what a very few of their colleagues in white collar jobs have access to. This is, however, understandable considering the fact that for the most part, farming practices in African agriculture has not changed in generations. Lack of support to improve productivity and harness innovation into the sector has in many ways pushed young people away from business opportunities in agriculture and into more attractive sectors like information and communication technology (ICT) or finance.

Given agriculture’s major role in the rural economy, it has significant potential to provide solutions to the current problems of youth unemployment on the continent and slow the pace of rural-urban migration. One important consequence of continuing rural exodus in the 21st century is that many farmers worldwide now have no obvious successors in the next generation. Most people in Africa, although misinformed, do not view agriculture as an attractive profession, a problem common to industrialised and developing countries. Despite all the increases in agricultural efficiency in developed nations, the lack of will still pose a major additional, but often overlooked, threat to future food security worldwide. This trend clearly needs to be reversed.

The effort of our governments especially in the sub-Saharan region has however being minimal with regards to spurring agro-based initiatives. There is a misinformed high drive towards industrialization as a way to get Africa out of poverty neglecting agriculture. For instance in Nigeria, the government places great emphasis on students who study subjects that lead to careers in medicine, oil and gas, accounting, IT and Law, neglecting and diminishing the importance on agriculture. Financial support for farmers has been non-existent, agricultural loans are often siphoned by politicians who channel this money into private use.

The challenge that needs to be addressed, as leaders, facilitators, and policymakers in Africa’s agricultural development is to build the capacities of our young people – male and female, and equip them to address the emerging requirements of an attractive agricultural economy that offers prospects for viable incomes and good quality of life. We must invest in education at all levels, support agricultural innovation, build market infrastructure and improve the business environment in ways that will raise incomes and expand the agricultural value chain. Farming needs to be promoted as a sustainable and attractive profession for youth by adopting a pragmatic but visual approach to improving all agricultural concerns within the next decade to motivate young people who might still want to be farming in 2060.

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